HIGDON; TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concertos
Hilary Hahn’s Tchaikovsky is no warhorse. Her tone remains unforced even in the most strenuous passages, and in the finale, instead of the typical virtuoso’s urge to press forward, she stays poised, the movement’s vivacity expressed through rhythmic balance and precision. Does the music lose anything from this approach? We hear nothing that approaches Mischa Elman’s wonderful lyrical extravagance, it’s true, but Hahn’s more subtle way with Tchaikovsky’s melodies gives them a different kind of life, more integrated into the flow of the music, making the listener aware that, beneath its brilliant exterior, the Concerto has a deep, meditative aspect. Petrenko and the RLPO give magnificent support, with distinguished solo woodwind contributions and spirited tuttis – the lead-up to the first-movement cadenza is as exciting as you’re likely to hear. Only two things failed to convince – Hahn’s C major transformation of the main theme in the middle of the first movement doesn’t really sound lively or playful enough, and earlier (5'44") I can’t understand why the triplet passagework should suddenly slow down.
Jennifer Higdon’s new concerto, dedicated to Hahn, is an attractive, colourful work, scored most imaginatively and with great finesse. I enjoyed the first movement especially, its disparate material so expertly contrasted and integrated. The second movement, entitled “Chaconni”, has a pastoral feel, vaguely reminiscent of Vaughan Williams but with the lark ascending into a more unsettled sky. The finale, a real showpiece for the violin, is less substantial but rhythmically most inventive. The performance of the whole concerto is splendid – confident and refined.